Educated for the global economy

If the U.S. can’t produce an educated workforce, jobs will go overseas in search of skilled workers. Chester Finn cites a speech by Alan Greenspan on the role of education in the global economy. Finn writes:

The fed chairman observed that the greatest source of wealth creation in America (after the rule of law) is “the level of knowledge and skill of the population.” He pointed to the mismatch between the rising human-capital needs — the knowledge and skill requirements — of a successful modern economy and the woefully low knowledge/skill level of much of the American workforce. Then he made a powerful case for K-12 education reform.

. . . After praising community colleges, he explained that our key problem isn’t too few people with postsecondary degrees. Rather, we must look farther “back through our education system. Many of our students languish at too low a level of skill and the result is an apparent excess of supply [of low-skill workers] relative to a declining demand. These changing balances are most evident in the failure of real wages at the lower end of our income distribution to rise during the past quarter century.

In the 20th century, our education system adapted to the changing demands of the economy, Greenspan says. The 21st century requires more knowledgeable workers with the ability to learn new skills for new jobs.

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Comments

  1. “…The 21st century requires more knowledgeable workers with the ability to learn new skills for new jobs.” Very true. The problem is that this statement will be misused by the education establishment to call for more courses in “how to think,” rather than that boring old “subject matter” stuff. And, mysteriously, very few of the “how to think” courses will have anything to do with deductive reasoning, statistical inference, or scientific method.

  2. Chris Adams says:

    David,

    You hit the nail on the head. I just sent a blistering letter to the math coordinator of the school district my daughters attend over that very issue. I attached a copy of Joanne’s “The imposition of factualities ” post to go with it.

    I’d go into shock if I actually heard anything from it. They have invested so much culturally into the current math teaching method that they can’t back down now. Both my children are now getting seperate instruction outside of school. It’s too important, even though I suspect they won’t be going into the hard sciences, to leave their math education to some grand experiment by the school system.

  3. That’s great thinking on Greenspan’s part. Would he care to venture a guess as to what one should study so that you can get a job that won’t go offshore? I mean a job besides ‘government worker’.

    Maybe we should stop running a giant jobs program for the rest of the planet via our combo university and H1B programs for one thing.

    Quite a few of those folks at the low end that re-educated themselves are getting beat out again. It isn’t their fault for not predicting global labor trends.

    I understand all the global economy stuff, but that doesn’t mean the situation doesn’t suck.

  4. “In the 20th century, our education system adapted to the changing demands of the economy, Greenspan says.”

    Not really. What we did was tack several years onto everyone’s childhood and patched in colleges as a kludgy way to fill in the gaps.

    That game is just about played out. We’re going to actually have to fix things this time.

    “That’s great thinking on Greenspan’s part. Would he care to venture a guess as to what one should study so that you can get a job that won’t go offshore?”

    You’re assuming that the Indians are somehow capable of taking over every industry just as fast as we can train for it. It took them a while to make inroads into IT, if you’ll recall.

    But we do need a better system so that we can retrain, several times if necessary, and stay ahead of them. Colleges aren’t going to cut it; they’re not fast enough or cost-effective enough. Maybe their for-profit competitors can pick up the slack and train for high-end stuff like biotech and nanotech, but they haven’t reached that point yet.

  5. Joanne,

    Does your blog service suport html coding?

    Let’s try an example of your new Amazon service.

    To see it, click here.

    Thanks

  6. jeff wright says:

    I’m no fan of Greenspan’s, who, IMO, won’t let out a peep about offshoring or H1B visas, or anything else that might be perceived as thwarting the relentless pace of capitalism. However, I think the little gnome may be trying to say that it would be kind of nice if American kids could actually use the English language and could actually use mathematics. He might even be saying that it would be nice if young Americans were cognizant of the society and world in which they live, which of course, they might actually get from some honest history and civics lessons.

    I think it would be kind of nice, too.

  7. Dave Dahlke says:

    Oh, is Greenspan saying something is wrong with our education system? HELLO, did Rip Van Winkle just wake up? Next he’ll be saying that the schools should be teaching the 3 Rs and wonder why his statement doesn’t effect the interest rate.

  8. Steve LaBonne says:

    Folks, the econmoy does not exist in order to create jobs. It exists to produce goods and services that people want. If a particular good or service can be produced more efficiently somewhere else, then buying it more expensively at home impoverishes the entire country in order to prop up the jobs of a few. Yes, we need to to a much better job of really helping workers who have been displaced- they have sacrificed for the good of everyone, and justice demands that a portion of the increased wealth resulting from trade must be used to help them get back on their feet, especially via meaningful retraining. But the idea that a country can preserve its standard of living by shutting itself off from the rest of the world to “protect jobs” is every bit as delusional as an effort to build a perpetual motion machine.

    Greenspan is right, though of course not (as others have pointed out) original. We can produce many goods and services at lower cost than other countries even with higher-paid workers, but _only_ if our workers are better educated, more flexible, better able to adapt to advances in technology, and can take more initiative than those in countries with lower wages. And it’s not just the K-12 system that needs to adjust. Frankly, a lot of the resources now going to feed useless “professors” of Victim’s Studies at our 4-year colleges and universities (not to mention those schools’ fancy athletic facilities) should be redirected to the community college system, which already does a lot for the economy on very slender resources and could do much more if properly supported.

  9. jeff wright wrote: However, I think the little gnome may be trying to say that it would be kind of nice if American kids could actually use the English language and could actually use mathematics. He might even be saying that it would be nice if young Americans were cognizant of the society and world in which they live, which of course, they might actually get from some honest history and civics lessons.

    But why does anyone care what Greenspan says on this subject?

    Steve LaBonne wrote: as delusional as an effort to build a perpetual motion machine.

    It depends on what the meaning of the word “perpetual” is.

  10. Steve LaBonne says:

    OK, sorry for the sloppy language- a perpetual work-performing machine. (Though it might be argued that a “machine” is generally construed as a physical system that can do work…) 😉

  11. Of related interest, the teacher unions in MA have been trying to get some new Charter Schools cancelled by the state board of education. They organized a massive letter writing campaign by their students. Alas, they should have taught them how to right ‘skule’ properly. The board mermbers were convinced all right, convinced enough to autorise the new charter schools. (or is that ‘slulz?’)

  12. jeff wright says:

    “But why does anyone care what Greenspan says on this subject?”

    Because he’s Greenspan, Mark, and his utterances arguably have more impact on us commoners than anyone else in the nation. He grunts and you’re priced right out of that nice house you want to buy. We might also wish to consider that the mere fact that he wandered so far from his own reservation speaks volumns about the gravity of the issue.

    Actually, I do care about what Greenspan has to say, specifically because a different cast of characters listens to him. Traditional educational players aren’t getting the job done. Maybe the plutocrats can made some headway.

  13. John Costello…do you have a link for that? Sounds too good to miss…

  14. I saw that same article in the Boston Herald, I almost died laughing (it was that funny) 🙂

  15. jeff wright wrote: his utterances arguably have more impact on us commoners than anyone else in the nation. He grunts and you’re priced right out of that nice house you want to buy.

    Hmmm, that sounds more like an argument in favor of abolishing the Federal Reserve.

    We might also wish to consider that the mere fact that he wandered so far from his own reservation speaks volumns about the gravity of the issue.

    More likely it speaks volumes about his erroneous belief that expertise in one area naturally translates into expertise in other areas (always supposing, of course, that he actually has expertise in one area).

    Traditional educational players aren’t getting the job done. Maybe the plutocrats can made some headway.

    Beware of wishes granted.

  16. “You’re assuming that the Indians are somehow capable of taking over every industry just as fast as we can train for it. It took them a while to make inroads into IT, if you’ll recall.”

    No, I’m not assuming that at all. But most folks we’re talking about here took 4-6 years of college to train for the job. I am familiar with just how it progressed for software, because I am in software dev myself and have seen the whole chain of events for that industry.

    Each year for several years the H1B (H1B included more than just Indian folks) programs were expanded. Although many people chose to stay (by getting a green card) most returned to their home at the end of their 6 year stint working in an American company. It was inevitable that someone thought of gathering these folks up and offering their now experienced workforce at Indian labor rates. Ironically, the repatriated workers are displacing green card holders that stayed here too, some of whom are returning home to take advantage of the jobs there.

    With the H1B program we got a double whamy. Imported workers available at discount rates keep wages down. Fully trained workers return home and offer services at even lower discount rates.

    It worked this way in the case of India because they have highly educated, capable people. They were certainly smart enough to figure out the game. So I’m not blaming them, I’m blaming us. And no, we are not required to set up the game that way.

    Personally, I think the gubment should retrain and subsidize me while I change professions to pro bass fisherman 😉

  17. Robin – is a Pro bass fisherman one that can do a case of beer in an afternoon? 🙂

  18. Jack Tanner says:
  19. “Hmmm, that sounds more like an argument in favor of abolishing the Federal Reserve.”

    I didn’t read Rockwell’s post, but there is a clear constitutional question about the very existence of the Fed. However, that train left the station many years ago.

    “More likely it speaks volumes about his erroneous belief that expertise in one area naturally translates into expertise in other areas (always supposing, of course, that he actually has expertise in one area).”

    You betray a common belief in educational circles that somehow one needs to be an expert in education—usually advanced by those with some sort of professional credentials—in order to comment on the subject. I strongly disagree. Greenspan, like millions of other non-experts, is a consumer of the educational product. And, he’s got every right in the world to comment. Furthermore, his observation, namely that American kids have to be well educated to be competitive, is in the, “well, duh,” category. Greenspan is usually considered an expert in one thing and we know what that is. The only reason his comments might be considered controversial within educational circles is that the credibility he enjoys ensures that a lot of people will listen.

    I happen to like what he said because he’s shaking the trees. Let’s see what falls out.

    “Beware of wishes granted.”

    You mean it could be worse?

  20. Jack,

    Thanks for the link to the Boston Herald story. It’s appalling that students would be used as tools in an anti-education campaign. The exploiters got what they deserved.

  21. Mad Scientist says:

    OK, robin, try this for domestic jobs that will not be shipped overseas: the Chemical Industry.

    Here is an article:

    http://www.chemicalprocessing.com/Web_First/cp.nsf/ArticleID/CBOH-5TXLYE?OpenDocument&Highlight=0,operators

    Right now there is a debate about the need for better educated operators in chemical facilities throughout the US. These jobs are generally well-paying (top operators in our facility make $25-40K, in the petroleum industry, the figures are higher) and very stable. The reason is that bulk chemical manufacture is not very labor intensive, and transportation costs of the finished goods can be very high.

    Because of the failings of math and science education at the high school level, it is becoming standard for new operators throughout industry to have at least an associates’ degree in a “hard” subject such as Chemistry or Engineering Technology.

    Also, skilled workers in the crafts (i.e., welders, machinists, mechanics, etc.) need to have decent problem solving skills and at least a certificate to be even considered. The days of a drop-out who is “good with his hands” getting a position that requires some math and problem solving skills, are over.